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During an online budget forum organised by the WPA last Thursday, Professor Clive Thomas observed that one of the weakness of the 2021 budget is its failure to center poverty alleviation. This observation was supported by the other panelists, which included former Finance and Foreign Minister, Carl Greenridge who admitted that while reference is made to poverty in the budget, its exclusion from the budget’s list of core objectives is cause for concern. All the panelists observed in one form or the other the absence of an overall vision in the budget.
This is an observation that I made several times during the tenure of the Coalition. I felt that there was too much pragmatism and short-term thinking and too little transformational intent. Of course, it is difficult to be transformational in the absence of an overriding vision for the country, Against the backdrop of the country’s historical journey and the contemporary global imperatives, what kind of society do you want to construct? In other words, what is your ideological thrust?
While the Coalition set in train some progressive policy initiatives, these were not part of a vision for the society as a whole. The Guysuco rightsizing policy comes to mind—It was a vey progressive policy which could have gone a long way towards liberating the economy from the stranglehold of its colonial legacy. But because it was not hitched to a broader vision for the economy and society, the PPP was able to isolate it as an attack on Indian Guyanese. I remain convinced that had the Coalition governed within the context of a transformative vison, it would have avoided some of its mistakes and would have not been so vulnerable to the Regime Change machinations. Economic pragmatism is the enemy of transformation.
Now to the PPP. That party which was once grounded in the philosophy of working-class liberation is now wedded to a fusion of Ethnic Domination and Ethnic Capitalism. Hence there is no pretense at tackling the fundamental demands of the society such as poverty alleviation. If the Coalition lacked a coherent vision, the PPP attempt at vision takes the country into a zone where the traditional exploitation and marginalisation of the poor are being normalised within the context of ethnic conflict. That thrust would ultimately maintain the country as an anti-development space.
So, it is no accident that poverty alleviation is not centered in the PPP’s budget. It is no secret that any post-plantation society must as a first step aim to dismantle the inherent poverty that characterises such societies. If earlier post-colonial governments in Guyana could claim that they lacked the necessary resources to effectively contend with poverty, the present government cannot make that claim. Despite a bad contract, the revenues from oil are many times more than the country ever had at its disposal. It is more than enough to facilitate policies aimed a successfully ending the cycle of poverty in Guyana.
While the budget has some token spending aimed at the working classes, these are aimed more at satisfying campaign promises than at pointedly assaulting poverty. It does not take a rocket economist to tell us that the PPP’s vision for the society is not aimed at the transformation of the people. There is no set of policies in the budget that focuses on poverty alleviation. Both Tarron Khemraj and Audreyanna Thomas pointed to what they saw as a PPP manifesto budget rather than one aimed at a national development strategy. And it is well known by now that unless there are policies that intentionally set out to deal with this problem, it will keep multiplying. Policies aimed at strengthening Big Capital do not facilitate poverty-alleviation.
The COVID19 pandemic has exposed the soft underbelly of the global economy, but it has been particularly harsh on underdeveloped economies like ours. It is perhaps a good time to reflect on what direction we want to take Guyana. Neither the Economic Pragmatism of the Coalition or the Ethnic Capitalism of the PPP will suffice. Both approaches sacrifice the working class—they ignore the structural poverty that resides here. And so long as poverty resides deep in our national veins, we will remain underdeveloped. The Oil analysts speak of the Dutch Curse. But they forget two other curses-the curse of Ethnic Domination and the curse of Poverty.
(More of Dr. Hinds’ commentaries can be found on his website guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news and on his Facebook page Hinds’Sight. Catch him on Facebook on Thursdays at 7 pm for Politics 101 with Dr. David Hinds.)